Have We Watered Down “Friends”?

A friend from high school stopped by a couple weeks ago. We haven’t seen each other in about 20 years, but our reunion hug was long and deep. A true friend. Which made me wonder about the friends my kids are developing?

I really thought about it when my mom returned from the parent-teacher association meeting recently about online safety.

“How was it?” I asked later that day.

“Scary,” she replied. Huh, I thought, that’s the same response my neighbor had when I asked her.

And they are right. It is scary. We know that children are being exposed to photos and information that is not appropriate. We know that our children are revealing too much personal information about themselves. We know that the number of child predators online is beyond comprehension (about half a million predators online every day). We know that at least 20% of all kids experience cyberbullying. We know that about 70% of all kids will “accept” a friend invitation whether or not they know the person.

Then it hit me. Do children these days actually know what a friend is? In my generation, a friend was someone you spent time with, someone that you enjoyed, someone with whom you did activities or sat beside and watched the clouds roll by. A friend was a human being in your physical social context. You have talked to your friend. You have shaken hands or hugged your friend. In those days, you knew your friend’s number and you talked to them.

Today, my children have had “friends” since they were a few months old in day care. Every other child in their class was a “friend.” “Good morning, friends.” “Play nice with your friends.” “Let’s open up our books, friends.” As they entered elementary school, the concept of all peers as friends continued to persist.

My question is, have we watered down the concept of friends to the extent that children assume everyone in their peer group is a friend. Thus, it makes sense to them that they might have hundreds of “friends” in an online space because “friends” are not necessarily people you know, but defined by someone else.

I asked my ten-year-old how many friends he has. His reply was “I have tons of friends. A whole bunch.” To me, though, he essentially has only one friend that he texts and plays Minecraft with and visits his home. The others are classmates and school peers.

So I’ve begun defining for him as he enters the online world that the only “friends” he is to have online are those that he also has a “real life” connection to. People he can touch. People he has spoken to and spent time with. People he actually knows.

It’s a scary world out there (even for me with viruses, hackers, identity theft and more a constant threat). Part of keeping kids safe is helping them navigate their social, electronic and digital experiences (I’m even contemplating using an “online contract“). And part of that is helping them identify and cultivate true “friends.”

(And I used to think parenting was easy….)

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Seven Friends Every Mom Needs (Especially this Single Mom)

Skiing has always held a strange mystique over me. Having grown up in a non-snowing foreign country and transplanting back in my teen years, I could never understand the fascination of propelling oneself down a hillside on thin blades and hoping for balance. Yet, it has remained on my list of things I “must” do with the boys (it’s my own internal list, half the stuff doesn’t make sense and the other half likely will never get accomplished).

However, the vast unknown surrounding the world of skiing has until now blocked my boys’ experiences. How do you even dress to ski? How do you put boots on kids’ feel? How do you navigate a ski lodge in which everyone walks around in the confidence of knowing where they’re going and what they’re doing – except you? It was too much to comprehend. Too much to attempt alone. Too much until a friend said, “Hey, my husband would be happy to teach your boys.” What beautiful joy.

This week, two very happy boys learned about clicking in ski boots, skicreating pizza or French fry poses, and the thrill of flying down the side of a little tiny mountain. Their brilliant faces and sparkling eyes spoke of their joy. I stood near the outdoor fireplace warming my toes and capturing moments on film and in my heart. Gratefulness overwhelmed me at one point as I thought about the joy that friends bring to one’s life and just how important they are to my parenting journey.

It seems to me that every parent needs at least seven kinds of friends. Clearly, one of them needs to know how to ski!

People who can do stuff you can’t Friends – There are things I can teach my boys like how to do the laundry, wash dishes, and say please and thank you. But there are so many things that I clearly have no ability to teach, like lift the toilet seat, flush every time, and how to ski. For this and so much more, I need friends who not only have skills I don’t, but who have a desire to spend time with kids and help them learn new skills. I’m very thankful for these friends.

Text Me Friends – In this digital age, it’s great to have these friends when you just want a little affirmation or to share a funny story that you know no one else except another mom would appreciate. The most important thing about these friends, though, is that when you’re stuck in a moment of parenting and just need a kind word, advice or empathy, but don’t have the emotional energy to actually talk, these friends are there for you in the pretty immediate response mode.

Call Me Friends – When you’re ready to chat about the little things in life, the surprise find at the grocery store or the cost of gas, or when you’re ready for a good heart-to-heart in-depth discussion, these are the friends you need. Though for us introverts, sometimes these are the Send Me An Email or Reach out on Facebook Friends! It’s pretty handy to have a friendly pediatrician in this category when you can’t figure out what that rash is or whether to grab the kid and run to the emergency room or just dole out some ibuprofen.

Dropping-by Friends – You need these friends to just come knocking or send a text and say, “Hey, watcha doing? Mind if I drop by?” And then you rush around picking up unmatched boys’ socks, doggie toys, and shoving the shoes into a pile so they don’t trip up your guest before opening up the bottle of wine. It’s going to be a nice evening and these are the friends you need.

You Got This Friends – The parenting journey is impossible without multiple moments of complete meltdown and desire to give it all up. You feel lost. You don’t know what to do next. You know you’re the worst mom (or dad) in the world. These friends pick you up, brush off the dirt, wipe off the baby drool, and push you back into the game. Listen to them.

Been There Done That Friends – Now these are key. When your eldest son refuses to talk to you on his first trip away from you in the ten years that you’ve known the dude, these are the friends who say, “Yep, boys are like that. Don’t worry.” You don’t believe these friends at first, but then you realize that they speak from experience and they actually are right! It’s also wise to listen to these friends as they rant or tell stories about their little ones, because pretty soon these “ho-hum” stories become your reality.

Meet Me Friends – It might be coffee. It might be a margarita. It might be a walk in the park or a bench at the playground. These are the moments when you pause and breathe and rest in a rhythm together. You smile, you laugh, you cry. You get together in the monthly M.O.C.K (Moms of Crazy Kids) meet ups. It’s really best to have these moments without the little ones around if you expect to put more than two sentences together in a conversation, but if that’s not possible, meet up anyway. Human contact is part of sanity.

Got-your-back Friends – Every once in awhile, the fine structure you’ve built up of how to make life flow smoothly crashes a bit and when your family is busy or is already watching your other kids and it’s midnight and you’re in the emergency room with one of the kids, these are the friends who arrive with a bag of every possible cell phone charger made in the past fifteen years so that you can plug in yours. No matter what, no matter what time of day, no matter what they are in the middle of, these friends drop it all. They’ve got your back. They will be there. (I know, this is technically the eighth type – but these friends are so crucial they are in their own must-have category!)

You need friends. That “village” that they’re always talking about. It’s not really for the kids…it’s the village behind the parent that keeps you going.

Build your village. I sure am thankful for mine – old and new.

 

 

The Start-up of M.O.C.K

 

A few years ago, I celebrated my birthday with my family – my three very young boys,

Trying a magic trick

Trying a magic trick

my sister and her two young sons and my wonderful parents. The only thing I remember from that evening is vowing to never again have dinner at home on my birthday. From then on, I was not going to eat cold take-out Thai food, yell at kids and wipe up dog poop from under the table. It’s my birthday – I shall go out with friends. Now I delightedly savor warm bites of my favorite food and enjoy my favorite adult drinks in the company of some of my favorite adult friends. Delightful.

However, apparently once a year is not enough for me.

Anyone want to clean that up?

Anyone want to clean that up?

Because not all of my favorite adult friends are available on one particular day. Not all of my favorite food and drink can be consumed in one sitting (without some serious consequences afterwards). And that really, for me to survive this “best job of all” – parenting kids – I’m going to need a lot more support than dinner once a year.

We all do. We need fellowship with people in order to keep ourselves grounded and sane. We need to vent, we need to share, we need to laugh. We need friends of various walks of life to offer us perspective and experience. We need friends of various “ages and stages” of life to mentor us through our current stage and prep us for the next. We need people! And while in today’s world it’s pretty easy to connect through texting and Facebook and email, we cannot let ourselves be satisfied there. The body language, eye contact, and spontaneity which flows in gathering together is vital to us.

Typical evening pencil battle

Typical evening pencil battle

So my resolution this year (year being the “academic school year” since it is September after all, and therefore convenient to label it so), is to spend more time in the presence of friends (or about-to-be friends). And because I work for organizations with silly acronyms, I think an adult gathering should have a silly acronym as well. And because I’m all about inclusion and I have friends from so many different phases of my life and different situations, I want to make sure all are invited.

I’ve decided I need a M.O.C.K group – Mother Of Crazy Kids. (Or M.O.C.C. – see below).

If you have any children in your life, be they 50 years old, 22, 15 or 5 months of age, they are crazy by definition. They pick up gum from pathways in Kennywood Amusement Park and eat it before you can scream No! They color on walls. They flush things down the toilet.

Is this your hiding place?

Is this your hiding place?

They are crazy because they are curious and they are curious because they are kids. So, if you have kids (or someone in your life who acts like a kid), you have crazy kids.

Or, you could be the Mother of Crazy Kittens or Crazy Canines or some other kind of Critter (including general pests within the house). It’s M.O.C.C.!  If you have kids and critters, bless you. We should talk about that sometime.

Of course, you could also be the Mother of Crazy Concepts. Some of my friends specialize in wild and wacky ideas for which I love them. These thinkers-outside-any-box are essential to a gathering!

You just going to leave that there?

You just going to leave that there?

My thought is to have a regular gathering night and I’ll be there (unless I can’t) and others can just show up (unless they can’t). And if no one shows up, I’ll read a book for a couple hours and consider it a perfect night. And if anyone shows up, I’ll consider it a perfect night. The absolute key thing will be to stay out late enough that the babysitter has the boys asleep (and not just “in bed” – they’ve tricked me with that before!) before I get home!

Because kids are crazy and crazy is fine, but sometimes it’s just nice to not put the crazies to bed and to have a few moments in the company of others.

 

 

 

Needing a good cry….and some duct tape.

Ever have that feeling – that if you could actually find a moment of quiet, you’d like to fill it with huge sobbing tears. But they’re all stuck inside because you just don’t have time and don’t have the “space” for it.

Yesterday morning I was the keynote speaker at a conference on healthy living. Yes, I was somewhat eloquent (or at least not too boring) as I talked about how we caregivers rarely we take care of ourselves and yet how important it is that we do. A day later when life has snow-balled upon me, I’m a hot mess of emotions and struggling to find those “coping” skills that seem so academic yesterday.

Image credit - www.steveholt.com

Image credit – http://www.steveholt.com

Here’s a few coping styles:

  1. Identify the emotion: I’m sad-mad as Oh so eloquently put it in the recent movie “Home.” I’m sad that my mother had to leave an event where I was being honored as a volunteer for my work on the crisis nursery because my babysitter had the Home-Oh-Catgall to text and say, “A minor issue at work and I’m still here. I can’t help you tonight.” Bless my mother for saving the day (after my sister already “saved” the middle child when he poked himself in the eye….since my dad who was “watching” the kids was on the couch having spent the last 20 hours in the emergency room for chest pain two days after having surgery on his fractured wrist to put the six pieces back together!). Just a bit too much for the brain to process and the sadness made me oh so mad.
  1. Release the emotion by calling a friend to complain bitterly about the lack of responsibility and commitment in my sad-mad situation, but hold in the tears as the start of the work day rapidly approaches. Being that today was a “doctoring” day, there’s no dialing down of emotions, there’s an on-off switch so that I’m present 100 percent to those seeking me for comfort.
  1. Calm some stress by texting a friend: Very important to have a pediatrician as a friend (despite the fact that I’m technically in that category too) when your kid looks in the car mirror as he climbs in on the way to school and says, “Look, Mom, there’s blood in my eye.” How did I not notice in the rush to get the three of them up and out the door this morning?!? Come to think of it – I called that pediatrician friend first thing in the morning to calm my racing brain and texted her later in the day to calm my racing brain and texted before bed too! Very important to have patient pediatrician friends. Very good coping mechanism.
  1. Run away by getting outside into the sun and letting the endorphins burn off some of the stress. It’s a temporary avoidance technique as a quick check of work email during the cool-down walk is guaranteed to start the surge right off again.
  1. Find the duct tape to put the door back together and hold the glass in becauseduct tape you can’t find a hammer (maybe it went to the sister’s new house) and you can’t call your dad to fix it because his arm’s in a cast and you can’t figure out any other quick solution as you pack the kids into the car to tire them out at the playground, hoping it will get them to sleep earlier and you to a moment of peace quicker.

Prolonged activation of the stress response system can become toxic to the body. I know that. I talk to people about that quite often. I give lectures about its effects. But sometimes it’s more than I can do to find a moment for a good cry…. The duct tape was easier to find today.

 

 

 

You must have texting friends

And you need quite a number of them because you never know who might be too busy at the moment….changing a diaper, engaged in a heated argument with a three-year-old over whether cows have four legs, locked in an endless cardgame of “War” with an eight-year-old, or actually (no way?!?) be engaged in an adult-only activity!  For when a mom is busy – a mom is busy.

But when a mom is hurting or scared or frustrated or feeling so guilty that she knows her kid will need counseling the rest of his adult life, then a mom is hurting or scared or just out of her mind. And at that moment, she needs another woman. (No doubt this applies to dads too – I just can’t speak from that experience 🙂 ).

If you’re a mom today, you must have texting friends (and your texting mom!)….because that’s how we “do it” nowadays. In other times, there were the quilting bees – sitting around an edge of a quilt, needle in hand, sharing life’s moments, passing along wisdom from one generation to the next. There were the book groups – I mean, really – who’s ever been to a book group where you actually read and discussed the book?!? There were the church women’s groups for tea and cakes. And in some developing countries, there’s the long walk to the watering hole with the empty jug and the heart full of the day’s worries.

These days, for me, it’s the text. When my heart is full, I don’t actually want to “talk” to someone….because they might notice my red, wet eyes. They might hear the crack in my voice, the sniffle of my nose. And sometimes I don’t want to talk face to face because I’m in my pajamas. And I’m home alone and the kids are sleeping upstairs. And I’m on the couch with a huge heartache. But when I send my woes out in the void, I need the return “beep” of comfort, wisdom, advice….or sometimes just “I hear you.” “It’s hard.”

Mr. Ornery has taken his namesake to an all new level. He has become that obnoxious, bratty little kid that every parent dreads and every parent wonders, “How did I create this monster?” I react and push back against his hurtful words. I demand he clean up his toys and get to bed. I grump about how “bad” his behavior is….until suddenly it dawns on me that he is speaking from a place of pain. (I’m slow at these realizations, I know, but am trying to get better.) You see, my Mommy job is to explore that pain and figure out what’s really bothering him deep in there – you know, other than the fact that he just started a new school – um, yesterday – and returned to his prior daycare center for the afternoon, and his buddy The Flipper is not around anymore, and it’s no fair that they get to stay “at the new house and he doesn’t.” I could go on and on. texts2He should be angry, sad, stressed, exhausted, tearful. So I finally get control of myself and wrap him in my arms beside his bed. I “secretly” cry enough silent tears that he finally sits up and says, “Why is my hair wet?” We wipe his head. I grab a tissue. He sleeps. I text the void. My friend replies.

I’m not saying that that’s all you have. In fact, you can’t “have” texting friends until you actually make friends and develop enough of a relationship that they can “read” the subtleties of your text. That your friend can “feel” you through time and space and “know” that they need to respond. And your relationships can’t all be built upon texting, either, because that can get too messed up and sometimes mistaken (or auto-corrrected!). You actually do need face time (not on a screen!) and you do need time that you sit beside someone in silence and you really do need hugs (find those hugging friends too!). To survive this thing called parenting, you need all kinds of friends.

But find those women who will be your texting friends. Some day….late at night….when the heart aches….you will find comfort.

Thank you to all my friends (and my mom….who texts!).

 

Everything I need to know I learned from my son’s first grade

M & N 4-30-14Love your job and do it. – Super Tall Guy struggled with high energy and impulsivity the entire school year. It seemed like every day he was getting into a bit of trouble in first grade. Wrapping up a parent-teacher conference with the principal in attendance, I thanked the two of them with heartfelt gratitude for being willing to work so hard with him. “Of course,” said the principal, “It’s our job and we love him.” It struck me that she was right and I was thrilled to see them do their job with such loving hearts.

Judge less. Give more grace. – Super Tall Guy informed me one day, “Mom, why are you always judging me? They give me more grace at school.”  Apparently, my constant parent-harping is considered judging and I should give him a little more grace. Very true. They speak the truth.  And if you make a mistake and “judge” the wrong kid, apologize and make amends. That’s what his teacher does

Some things take a lot more time and money than you expect. Let’s take shopping for school supplies at the beginning of the year as an example. Enough said.

Find a routine that works and stick to it….up until the point at which you find you absolutely must change it. Figure out when that homework must be done and stick to it. Kids smell weakness.

It’s okay to reward some behaviors. It is amazing how the “Spelling” grade sky-rocketed once practice was tied to the reward of “ten minutes of TV” (well, technically, “screen time” as the TV is still out of commission thanks to the mysterious “somebody” who keeps getting into trouble!). Rewards in the form of “Leaping for Joy” from the teacher can also become screen time!

Be patient and try again. You won’t always succeed on the first (or 200th) time, but keep trying. Math facts and phonics “special sounds” are pure memorization – do the drill to get the result.

Be present in the moment….and actually listen. If your kid has something to say about school other than a monosyllabic grunt, shut your mouth completely and give space for whatever he wants to say. It’s going to be rare.

Make new friends and cultivate your friendships. Bug your mother incessantly until she sets up a playdate – it’s important. Spend time with people.

Remember that the start and end of a project are always the busiest times. Plan for that.  The first couple weeks of school take an enormous amount of energy to get into a rhythm and you might as well just take off work the last week of school, what with awards ceremonies, family picnics, early dismissal…..

Hug and Kiss your kid every single day. Tell them that they are doing a good job and that they will change the world. Someday they just might believe you.